Former University of Tartu rector Peeter Tulviste dies at 71

Academic and former TÜ rector Peeter Tulviste the day before his 70th birthday. Oct. 27, 2015. Source: (Margus Ansu/Postimees/Scanpix)

Peeter Tulviste, who served as rector of the University of Tartu (TÜ) from 1993-1998 and was credited with promoting the university on the world stage, died following a serious illness on Saturday morning.

Current TÜ rector Volli Kalm told ERR’s radio news that during Tulviste’s tenure as rector, the university opened itself up beyond Estonia in larger part thanks to his endeavors, particularly in Scandinavian countries and Germany.

"I remember well — I was dean at the time — how rector Tulviste often came back from abroad and said look, they do it like this and that, we should also consider it — perhaps it would work for us as well," Kalm recalled. "He constantly stressed that we don’t have to adopt everything letter for letter, but rather do what works for us. This has stayed with me."

According to Kalm, Tulviste was capable of handling everything that the rector was responsible for at the time. Everyone needed a bigger budget and more room, which meant that the rector often had to say no, however he managed to do so in a kind way. The current rector said that that Tulviste was known as a funny guy who had also penned collections of jokes.

Kalm also recalled that following his tenure as rector of the university, Tulviste was welcome everywhere as someone who was qualified to speak on university reform and had turned an Eastern European university into one recognized and accepted in the West.

Professor Jüri Allik, director of TÜ’s Psychology Institute, noted that it was Tulviste’s work in the field that brought Estonian psychology to the world-class level. On two expeditions to Central Asia and the Taymyr region in northern Siberia, he studied the development of thought in different cultural environments — work that, according to Allik, was world-class in the field of psychology.

"This is without a doubt the greatest accomplishment psychologists tied to Estonia have ever achieved," Allik asserted.

The psychology professor also highlighted Tulviste’s achievements as rector in transitioning the University of Tartu from a Soviet-era university to a democratic, freely organized state university and promoting it as a world-class educational institution.

According to academic and former President of the Riigikogu Ene Ergma, Tulviste did a great deal to spur the development of the University of Tartu.

"Those were the most difficult times — the 90s — when he became rector," she recalled. "He participated in politics, he was a very good researcher, he was elected to the Estonian Academy of Sciences, but most importantly he was a very sweet person and it is very difficult for us to think of him in terms of the past."

From Tallinn to Moscow to Tartu

Tulviste, who was born on Oct. 28, 1945 in Tallinn, graduated from Tallinn’s 10th Upper Secondary School. He later graduated from Moscow State University, where he majored in psychology and went on to earn a degree as a candidate of psychology in 1975 and a PhD in the same in 1987.

From 1993-1998, Tulviste served as rector of the University of Tartu. His academic career was dedicated to educating psychologists and research in the field of psychology.

He had also served as MP and both member and chairman of Tartu City Council, and was named an honorary citizen of Tartu in 2015. In 2001, he ran unsuccessfully for President of the Republic of Estonia as well.

Among other honors and awards, Tulviste was awarded the Order of the National Coat of Arms, 4th Class in 1998 and 3rd Class in 2006. He was also a member of the Estonian Students' Society.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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